Sunnehanna Country Club

Sunnehanna Country Club grounds crew member Dominic Williams mows the rough on No. 9 at the course on Friday, May 31, 2019. 

With less than two weeks until the 66th annual Sunnehanna Amateur Tournament for Champions, organizers addressed the local and regional media on Friday.

Among the topics at Sunnehanna Country Club:

• Wet weather, a recent tornado, overall course conditions and significant changes to tee boxes on two holes.

• The relocation of the Amateur qualifying event formerly held at Omni Bedford Springs Golf Resort in Bedford County to Sunnehanna.

• The return of the top two placewinners from last year’s Amateur – defending champion Alex Smalley and runner-up Quade Cummins.

• A trend in which many of the top amateurs and college players are opting to turn professional earlier than in the past.

The Sunnehanna Amateur will be held from June 12 to 15 at the par-70 course. The field, currently at 99, will include players from 12 countries.

A qualifying event to determine the final five spots in the field will be held on June 9.

“I have a list of all of our major champions by year,” Sunnehanna Amateur co-Chairman John Yerger said. “Since 1958 we’ve had a major champion winner every year but eight years, which is incredible. When you have the likes of (Arnold) Palmer, (Jack) Nicklaus and (Tiger) Woods, that helps.”

Yerger referred to players who competed at Sunnehanna and then went on to win major titles.

“If you look at the present tour and the upcoming players and the players who played here, I think we’re in for a golden era in terms of the success of players who have played here and who will win major championships,” Yerger added.

The Sunnehanna Country Club head grounds superintendent Mark Leppert has dealt with another wet spring.

“It’s been difficult. We had that tornado strike up here that also hit Old Westmont,” Leppert said of last week’s extreme weather. “We had about a dozen trees down and a lot of limbs and debris on the greens. 

“We had to clean that up. Now we’re dealing with the continuous rain we’ve had the last four or five days.

“We’re at 11 inches of rain for the month (of May) alone,” he said. 

“The last few days it’s been 41/2 to 5 inches.”

Both Yerger and Leppert talked about changes to the course such as lengthening both the No. 8 and No. 18 holes.

“We moved the tees back. We maintained the existing tees and added tees behind,” Leppert said. “We also removed trees on No. 8 over the gully, which will allow them to pick a point where they can hit across. There are no obstructions.

“On 18, that adds about 25 yards on that hole so it’s going to bring the fairway bunkers into play a little more for these guys.” 

Yerger said moving the qualifier to Sunnehanna Country Club from Bedford made sense.

“Logistically, it’s a lot easier to have the guys playing here,” Yerger said. “It’s a lot easier on the housing committee. This course is already set up to hold a championship.” 

Among the recent Sunnehanna players who have turned pro are: Cooper Musselman, who finished third last year; John Augenstein and Stephen Franken, who tied for fourth in 2018; Collin Morikawa, who won the 2016 Amateur, was runner-up in 2017 and sixth last year; Andy Zhang, who tied for sixth last year; and Zachary Bauchou, tied for eighth.

“A significant number of the top college players are turning pro,” Yerger said. “Six of the top nine players in the world amateur rankings are turning pro. We’re going to see large turnovers in the fields. The days of having players play here three and four years is probably a thing of the past.” 

Mike Mastovich is a sports reporter and columnist for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5083. Follow him on Twitter @Masty81.